Penetration testing is a procedure aimed at identifying security weaknesses in computing systems, apps, or networks. Thus, this is a type of ethical hacking which helps to meet your cyber security objectives.
A pen test, as people also call it, might sound similar to a vulnerability assessment, yet there still is a significant difference between these two. Unlike a vulnerability assessment used exclusively to see how serious the potential weak spots are, a penetration test simulates a whole cyber attack. Although security professionals mostly use it to detect security issues and tackle them afterwards, it is also a way to reconstruct the very core of the organization’s security policy, see how the responsible security personnel acts under such emergency circumstances, and whether their actions happen to be effective.
Who performs a Pen Test?
In addition to ensuring that cyber-security programs go off without a hitch, finding the right people to perform penetration testing is a must. The penetration testers carrying out such tests are called ethical hackers because their job implies attempting to hack into a system having permission from those owning this system. Since testing security vulnerabilities in an unbiased way is in the customer’s best interest, ethical hackers tend to be hired from outside.
The majority of hackers have corresponding education and specialty, often backed up by a university degree or certificates. The others do their job just fine without diplomas. In fact, there are quite a lot of cases of former hackers becoming top-notch ethical hackers who work for the good of separate companies or even governments and use their knowledge base to help with fixing security flaws.
Types of Penetration Testing
Depending on what companies’ security demands are, they are exposed to several widely used penetration testing types:
- Internal pen testing. Internal testing is used to simulate the actions of an internal hacker, such as a visitor who only has physical access to the office or a contractor with limited access to certain systems.
- External pen testing. External testing helps with assessing the strength of an organization’s security controls and determining how a hacker can break into a company’s internal network from outside.
- Targeted testing. The type of pen testing where ethical hackers and security teams work jointly in a so-called “lights-on” manner, where both the tester and IT teams know the time frame of the penetration testing process.
- Blind testing. In a blind test, the hacker is left with little to no special information about the test taker except everything that can be found in the public domain.
- Double-blind testing. Unlike a targeted test, this testing is performed with a couple of the company’s employees being aware of it. The testing team, however, has no idea about when the testing takes place.
Advantages of using Penetration Testing
The penetration testing services will bring the following benefits to your business:
- Reduced security risks. Pen tests allow one to uncover vulnerabilities and tackle them right away. It plays a vital role in the further protection of sensitive data and the network infrastructure as a whole.
- Assessing the security team’s capabilities. Pen testing is also a great opportunity to see how effective your security team is. Knowing the weak spots of your IT team will reveal what kind of additional training it needs to increase its competence.
- Protection from financial damage. A simple security breach can cause millions of dollars in damages. Penetration testing provides the necessary security measures to protect the organization from suffering significant losses.
- Client protection. A data breach of even a single customer can cause great financial damage as well as reputational risk. It protects organizations working with clients and keeps their data safe and sound.
- Improvement of your organization’s image among the interested parties. Holding penetration tests inspires the trust of investors, which, in turn, ensures ongoing investment flows.
Penetration Testing for meeting compliance requirements
Pen tests are also essential when it comes to meeting various security standards, such as PCI, GDPR, SOC 2, HIPAA, and others. For example, organizations may require a specific type or types of security certifications depending on their activities. Thus, PCI DSS certification will be required to ensure the security of credit card data, while the SOC 2 standard is intended to assess the internal network security controls of companies regarding availability, security, integrity, confidentiality, and privacy.
Types of Penetration Testing: Manual and Automated
Penetration tests can be performed using one of the following approaches:
- Manual testing
- Automated testing
Conducting manual pen testing of the organization’s computer system implies a simulated attack consisting of 6 main stages.
The initial stage includes the collection of requirements and defining the scope, strategies, and goals of penetration testing in accordance with security regulations.
Scanning and Exploring
In the second stage, pen testers carry out a reconnaissance of the target system. Among the information for gathering are IP addresses, emails of users, their full names, workplaces, etc. Once the target is known, pen testers identify weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities of the system, which will later be used in the pen testing process.
Gaining access and Exploitation
Here, penetration testers gain access and exploit the system’s weaknesses through external and internal attacks.
Breaking into a system is often not enough if there is no way to maintain control for the needed period of time. In this regard, this phase is vital for a penetration tester to see how long the access can be maintained.
Reporting includes documentary work on the activities carried out at all the stages mentioned. In addition, it can describe various risks, problems, detected vulnerabilities, and potential solutions to fix the deficiencies and not let real-world cyber attacks or other security incidents take place in the future.
This method involves the use of special penetration testing tools. Automated penetration tests are reliable, convenient, fast, and easy to analyze. Automated tools are highly effective in security testing, which makes their use even more reasonable. Here are a few of the most widespread pen testing tools:
- Cain & Abel;
Armed with advanced technology and a wide range of resources and tools, hackers often break into a system or network with the intent to harm an organization’s reputation and assets. Penetration testing, more than other types of testing, can be seen as an effective tool to identify various security gaps, helping to minimize potential threats to the system as a whole.
Frequently Asked Questions
A penetration test is carried out to identify existing vulnerabilities of the IT system, demonstrate the possibility of their exploitation (using the most critical ones as an example), and generate recommendations for eliminating the detected vulnerabilities.
Depending on the system and type of pen test, it takes about two weeks to perform.
Depending on the organization’s requirements, the price for a professional pen test ranges from 10 to 100 thousand dollars. On average, it costs from 15 to 30 thousand.
Sometimes companies choose different vulnerability assessments over a full-fledged penetration test, which is often a big mistake. Pen tests simulate real world attacks, which allows for a better understanding of a system’s flaws and ways to fix them.
Yes. Applications for mobile devices also need solid hacking protection that is ensured by pen testing.